Probe Nuclear Plant Earthquake Safety

The federal government forces industries to spend enormous amounts of money to keep the public safe, both from flaws in products and manufacturing processes. But a situation related to the earthquake earlier this month should prompt Americans to wonder whether too much emphasis is on protecting us from problems in the past – while not enough is about serious danger in the future.

Nuclear power plants in the United States are subject to far more regulations than most other industries. The crisis in Japan earlier this year, when radioactivity was released from a plant damaged by an earthquake and tsunami, makes it clear such caution is necessary.

But the NRC now is concerned about some power plants here that may have been damaged by the earthquake centered in Virginia, earlier this month.

NRC inspectors already have visited some nuclear power plants to ensure they did not suffer significant damage from the earthquake. But additional inspectors were being sent to the North Anna power plant near Richmond this week, after the company’s owner made a disturbing discovery.

Dominion Power told the NRC its analysis indicated the strength of tremors caused by the 5.8 magnitude earthquake may have exceeded what the North Anna plant was designed to handle.

Both Dominion and the NRC were quick to note that determination doesn’t mean the plant is unsafe. Preliminary inspections have found no serious damage.

But while this region of the country seldom is shaken by earthquakes, the potential for them is very real. Dominion’s notice to the NRC raises questions about whether federal guidelines are adequate to protect the public, should an even stronger earthquake occur. Those questions need to be answered by the NRC, immediately.